Friday, June 8, 2012

Jelly on the Bush

            I’ve heard some folks refer to cattle as hamburger on the hoof.  With this reference in mind, the past few weeks have had me salivating as I think of all the luscious jellies out there still on the bush.  Yes, each of those fragrant bee-attracting blooms is a bit of jelly still on the plant, and I can’t wait to harvest the fruits and heat up the kitchen.

In the past few weeks, this year’s currant bushes sported lovely, fragrant yellow blooms that promise tasty currant jellies, while hundreds of chokecherry bushes blossomed out this week hinting of savory, rose-red bliss.  Unfortunately, the sand hill plums flowered early enough that a frost damaged many of their blooms.  Despite the damage, I hope to harvest some fruits for the jelly pot.

I’ve kept an eye on the wild grape vines nearby, but I can’t tell whether to develop a hankering for wild grape jelly or not. Grapes are a bit difficult to predict because the plant can set little clusters, but dry conditions can shrivel them before they become raisins.  In addition, birds love wild grapes so it’s a contest to see whether I can pluck these from the vine before my feathered neighbors eat them first.

 I did have currants last year, but I also had free range chickens that quickly dashed any hopes of beating them to the currant harvest.  I’d eyeball the deepening color of the round fruits each day, and by the time they reached picking perfection, my 30 some walking egg factories had gobbled them down.  I felt lucky to find a few to toss in my salad by the time the chickens finished their dinners.  This year I am down to three chickens, so perhaps I’ll get a bowl full of currants for jelly making.

Because a combination of an early bloom and a late frost wiped out all hopes of summer jelly making last summer, I have watched this year’s plants with an eagle eye. Barring insect or hail damage, this year’s jelly making prospects look good.

Currently, no pun intended, scores of empty jelly jars occupy my jelly pantry.  Each jar is a silent testament to my failure to harvest a single chokecherry or sand hill plum last summer.  If there were wild grapes, I never found enough of them to amount to a pot of simmering purple brew.

My goal this summer is to harvest bowls of currants, buckets of chokecherries and hopefully grapes, with a pan of sand hill plums added as each fruit ripens at the right time.  I intend to create a little magic with some simple ingredients such as Sure Gel and sugar added to my boiling fruit juices.  At exactly the right time, I intend to pour the resulting ambrosia into my empty fruit jars, seal them, and let them jell up.  Then I plan to stack the results in front of my west kitchen window and let the setting sun shine through them until it looks like a cathedral stained glass window instead of my normal kitchen window.

After I enjoy the visual effects, I’ll share the goodies with family and friends all through the winter as we savor reminders of summer on our toast and biscuits.

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